The North Carolina General Assembly is currently considering a proposal to transfer oversight of the state’s Animal Welfare Act (AWA) from the state’s Department of Agriculture to the Department of Public Safety. North Carolina is not the first state to consider this, and it’s not a good idea. It is potentially dangerous to the well-being of animals, expensive to the state, and has failed when tried elsewhere.
In North Carolina, an act of animal cruelty is a felony. Upon receiving such allegations, law enforcement gets involved to hold the person accountable for violating a state law, and this is appropriate. However, law enforcement should not be burdened, nor is it appropriate, to ask them to develop animal welfare policy and oversee its administration and regulation, just as is it not appropriate to ask the Department of Agriculture to enforce the state’s criminal laws. Each department has a specific function and area of expertise that enables them to best serve the state’s citizens in their specific capacity and purpose.
Good animal policy involves the simple premise that oversight should be conducted by those with expertise in animal health and husbandry. In North Carolina, the state Department of Agriculture administers the AWA, which specifically regulates the care, handling, transportation, sale and housing of animals in all types of facilities, including shelters, breeding facilities, boarding kennels, pet shops, or other special situations. This makes sense: the Department of Agriculture has extensive animal expertise and animal policy-making experience not shared by other administrative departments. The State Veterinarian, for example, is under the umbrella of the Department of Agriculture. It is for this reason that a majority of states with kennel and breeder regulations place their laws under the oversight of the state’s agricultural/animal health departments.
However, under the current version of SB 744, which is supported by the Governor and animal rights activists, this could change in the next few weeks in North Carolina. The bill moves the AWA oversight to the Department of Public Safety and would be overseen by a political appointee rather than North Carolina’s elected Commissioner of Agriculture. Even more damaging, it re-routes future animal policy away from oversight by animal health and policy experts, paving the way for an anti- breeding, anti-agriculture animal rights agenda lacking scientific basis and endangering the health and welfare of animals in North Carolina, as well as the public.
Oklahoma tried a similar experiment in 2010 when it placed oversight of its new kennel and breeder laws under a separate entity other than the Department of Agriculture, which oversees other animal regulations for the state. In less than two years that program was so riddled with compliance issues and cost overruns, the legislature completely reorganized the program and transferred the program to the Department of Agriculture.
When Tennessee was originally considering breeder legislation, the intention was to put the new laws under the state’s department of agriculture, but it was transferred by an executive order of the Governor. A recent state audit of the program has determined it to be a failure, and it will end on June 30, 2014. Dog and cat dealers who sell dogs at resale will continue to be under the oversight of the state’s department of agriculture, as they have for many decades. The AKC has yet to hear any good reason to endanger our animals, undermine our current animal welfare system, or take on the needless expense and confusion that a transfer of the AWA would cause.
For the welfare of our animals and the future of responsible breeders and dog owners, we urge you to be aware of the increasing trend by animal rights activists of separating animal welfare or breeder laws from agriculture or animal science, and we encourage you to join us in working to ensure that animal welfare laws in North Carolina and around the country remain strong, free from bias, and within the jurisdiction of science-based animal health and agriculture traditions.